New Wenatchee police chief focuses on building relationships, collaboration and community outreach
New Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown is setting a strong example of leadership as he gets to know the department and the community. His commitment to collaboration and tapping into the wisdom of the community and members of his department are in perfect alignment with the grass roots-driven Our Valley What’s Next process of community improvement.
I sat down with Crown for an interview recently in my office to learn what he has discovered in the first four months since taking over for retired Chief Tom Robbins. Crown, who spent the first dozen years of his career at the Wenatchee Police Department and then went to work with the state Fish and Wildlife Department, rising to become chief there in 2013. He comes across as a thoughtful, analytical, open-minded and creative leader who wants to be part of building a stronger community.
Crown grew up on a farm inn a depressed area of southern Idaho. He toyed with the idea of going into the military, but instead headed to the University of Idaho to play football. In college, he was drawn to the problem solving aspect of criminal justice but also looking at policing from a sociological standpoint — why people do what they do.
Crown joined the Wenatchee Police force in 1991 and progressed quickly. One of the highlights of his career was helping quickly solve the murder of Chrissy Clements in 2001, a clerk who worked at Liberty Video.
Since taking over as chief, he has been methodically getting to know his department and learning more about the community. He’s interviewing every person who works at the department to understand their strengths and learn from their perspectives about how the department can be improved. He also created a survey for staff. When that internal outreach process is finished, he’ll survey the community to learn about how the department is perceived and issues that the community is most concerned about.
Crown’s thoughtful and thorough approach has a very strong grass-roots emphasis that is in perfect alignment with the Our Valley What’s Next effort to engage the whole valley in making community improvements. In that light, he sees opportunities for law enforcement agencies to work together on issues that cross jurisdictional lines. Those relationships area already strong but more opportunities exist to work together, said Crown.
Crown is interested in building a healthier environment in the valley so that there are fewer criminals to deal with. So he’s supportive of efforts to develop a Boys and Girls Club program here as well as other youth engagement efforts to give kids healthy choices. Relationships are critical to effective law enforcement, Crown told me. “I think every law enforcement agency in the nation know that you cannot do it all by yourself,” Crown said. Crimes get solved when there is trust in the community and people come forward with information. Strong trust seems to exist here in our valley, he said.
The police department and the rest of the city have been under severe financial constraints in recent years, due to the events center debacle that Mayor Frank Kuntz was instrumental in solving. The police department staffing dwindled from 44 down to 36 officers and community engagement efforts were seriously curtailed due to the lack of resources.
The city has made tremendous progress financially, and the city now has resources to restore some of those services. He hopes to have 40 officers on staff by the end of the year.
Crown said he’s committed to building stronger relationships in the community and do more consistent outreach. He’s been making the rounds of various civic events and has paid particular attention to the challenges in South Wenatchee. Recently, he and Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett met with the Wenatchee Diversity Advisory Council to build greater understanding.
One effective way that citizens and law enforcement can better understand each other is through the Citizen Academy that allows individuals to get a taste of aspects of law enforcement. Crown also sees the possibility of having precincts out in the community to build relationships. The city used to have a precinct in South Wenatchee but that fell victim to budget challenges.
One of the big issues for law enforcement, Crown said, is dealing with people who have mental health issues. The department has been working with Catholic Family and Child Services on a mobile mental health effort that will allow them to divert individuals who are not a physical threat out of the jail system when appropriate. “Nearly every shift change has a story involving an individual with a mental event and sometimes two or three,” Crown said.
Since he’s returned to the valley, Crown said he’s been impressed with how the community is beginning to come together. Our Latino neighbors, for example, are making significant contributions in our community. Entrepreneurs are emerging, there’s a neighborhood association in South Wenatchee that is active, and individuals are getting more engaged. “I think we’ve made some real headway as a valley,” said Crown.
Engaging the public, building relationships, collaboration and long-term thinking are essential for this valley’s future. It’s exciting to see the Wenatchee Police Chief promoting and supporting those strategies.